Yosemite National Park’s greenery, waterfalls and huge, silver rock formations will impress any visitor. The park itself is enormous, but much of the tourism is concentrated in the Yosemite Valley area in its centre – a deep valley between high cliffs on both sides, where famous viewpoints, hiking trails and waterfalls provide the main attractions.
Amanda and I hired a Mustang convertible in Las Vegas and set off across the desert for Yosemite. Driving out of the city was an interesting experience, as I quickly learnt to navigate my first time driving on the left of the car, on the right of the road, in a much larger car than I was used to. After a few wrong exits from various freeways, we were finally on the long, straight desert road.
Driving along the Veterens Memorial Highway toward California was daunting: the oddly reflected light caused desert mirages, looking like water on the road up ahead, which gets further away the further you drive, so that you never reach it. The bare landscape coupled with this strange light also obscures oncoming traffic. After driving slowly behind a truck for too long, I eased out into the left lane to check for other vehicles. None were visible, so I pulled out and sped up to overtake. Then, out of nowhere, there was suddenly another car coming straight at us at top speed, terrifyingly close. We both screamed and I made to pull back in behind the truck, but now there was another car in my way. Vaguely contemplating swerving into the desert for a split second, instead I kept my foot down and pulled back in at the very last second, dangerously narrowly missing both the truck behind me and the oncoming car. Both Amanda and I roared with relief, shaking with the knowledge of how close we had come to a collision. I didn’t try to overtake on that highway again.
The drive was long. Google Maps said seven hours, but in reality it was close to nine. Having done this drive, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone else to do it all in one day. We passed through desert landscape and small towns, eventually into greener surroundings with lakes and climbing altitudes.
It was dark when we reached the gate to Yosemite National Park, and we still had almost another hour to go before reaching our campsite in the valley. There are no petrol stations inside the park, so make sure to fill up outside, whichever direction you’re coming from. I was getting tired, and I had Amanda play word games with me to keep me focused after such a long day driving. The road was winding with a steep drop on one side, so I took it easy. It was a good thing that I did, because at one point an enormous deer ran out of the trees and across the road, less than a foot away from the car.
We reached Curry Village tired and hungry. Curry Village (since rebranded as Half-Dome Village) is a very well set up campsite with ‘tent cabins’ – tents in the shape of cabins with camp beds, electric lights and heaters inside. The camp also has a bar that serves large, wood-fired pizzas, which we devoured after our long drive. In late September it got very cold in the valley at night time, so we were glad of the heater in our tent cabin.
The following morning we drove for 45 minutes up to Glacier Point, a high up viewpoint directly above the valley, to marvel at the half-dome (a half dome-shaped rock formation) and the incredible view beyond it.
Walking around the valley below, the way the sun’s rays spilled through the cliffs was enchanting. We stopped at all of the valley’s most famous viewpoints along the way, taking in the scenery on what was a beautiful, bright day, perfect for taking in the views.
After returning the car to the campsite, we hopped on the park’s free shuttle bus which takes visitors between the valley’s main sights, amenities and accommodations, and went to have dinner at bar of the 5* Ahwahnee Hotel (where only the rich can stay, at $500 a night!). Here we saw beautiful Native American tapestries on the walls in muted colours, and the view from the bar’s terrace was lovely as the evening rays of sun seeped into the valley.
On our drive out to the North West corner of Yosemite National Park the following day in the direction of San Francisco, we passed through the saddest thing we saw on our trip. Extreme forest fires had ravaged central California in the preceding weeks, and the hills out to our right and up ahead were all burnt black, the trees dead. Park rangers told us that it would take over 30 years to regrow and repair the damage.
Now we were on the road to San Francisco, the city that to many is synonymous with hippies, flowers, poetry and revolution. Our two days in Yosemite passed all too quickly, but only because of our constant movement did we manage to see so much on our road trip. The drive to San Francisco takes four hours, and we were ready for a city now. Next week you’ll hear all about it.
Western USA Road Trip!